Fluvanna County junior Kevin Ward was sure of it.
“I actually called it, I said Jacob is going to hit this ball out,” Ward said. “I was like, he’s going to hit something y’all.”
Jacob Critzer himself? Less sure.
“I went to that at bat thinking I just needed to get on base and let the team do the work because I’ve been in a little slump lately,” Critzer said. “But knowing I was down two strikes, I just needed to cut my swing down and I cut it down just enough to hit it over the scoreboard.”
Critzer connected and the ball climbed into the night sky, landing well beyond the confines of Kiwanis Park in Salem, home of the Class 3 state semifinals. The ball landed somewhere beyond the wall, a walk-off home run in the seventh inning that lifted Fluvanna County baseball into the state final for the first time in program history with a 5-4 victory over Brentsville.
“That blast, that was a no doubter,” said Fluvanna coach Joel Gray said. “It went over the American flag out there (at the top of the scoreboard) and I’m a patriotic guy so that was great. It looked pretty going by that red, white and blue.”
The Flucos will play for a state title Friday at noon at Kiwanis against Tabb, who edged out Brookville 4-3 to snag a spot in the final.
The road wasn’t as easy as Critzer’s swing that ended it, with the Flucos having to fight off Brentsville repeatedly. The lead changed hands three times throughout the game starting with Brookville’s solo home run to start the scoring in the top of the first and then the Tigers tied the game at 4-4 in the top of the sixth. Fluvanna couldn’t scratch back ahead in the bottom of the sixth, but Andrew Ward, who’d come on in relief of his brother Kevin in the fifth, struck out three in the bottom of the sixth to set the stage for Critzer’s heroics.
“Kevin was throwing a good game and it happens,” Andrew Ward said. “Then we started playing defense and started hitting the ball well.”
Andrew Ward struck out five in his three innings, closing out the effort by Kevin Ward that was solid and paled in comparison only to the incredible standard he set by posting a 0.66 ERA and giving up just two earned runs in the regular season. He settled in after the early home run, but Brentsville scored twice on him to take the lead at 3-2 in the top of the fifth on back-to-back RBI singles by Collin Reid and Jake DeLisi.
“Kevin battled, he had been on an almost two-week layoff and to Brentsville’s credit they’re a great hitting team,” Gray said. “He battled and kept us in it.”
He also got some defensive help. Ryan Groome made a tremendous diving stab to his right at third base in the first to prevent a 1-0 lead from becoming a 3-0 lead for Brentsville. Second baseman Kyle Algieri made several tough plays including a hard bounce behind first that he corralled and a pop up to shallow right that he ran down while losing his hat.
Critzer finished the day 2-for-2 at the plate and scored three runs including the solo homer. Toby Sherman had a double and Andrew Ward scored and had a single while Mason Gross and Cam Shields each had sacrifice flies for an RBI.
The back-to-back runs in the fifth led Fluvanna to bring in Andrew Ward and while an error helped allow Brentsville to tie it, Ward was completely locked in. He walked just one and gave up a single hit.
“My first three pitches, if they’re really good I know I can hit my spots,” Andrew Ward said. “If I don’t, it’s going to be a struggle. Tonight I just came out and threw the ball.”
For his part, Kevin Ward was thrilled to see his brother and then, in the end, Critzer push the Flucos forward.
“I was very excited my teammates picked me up, I knew they had my back the entire game,” Ward said. “It was just a place where we had to come out together and play ball.”
Now they’ll have to come out together and play ball again. This time with a state championship on the line.